Ashes

Easter comes early this year, March 27.  It’s not uncommon for clergy and church musicians to remark on that.  But Easter pulls along with it several other significant observances in the Christian calendar, such as Ash Wednesday and Lent.  Yet we don’t often hear anyone remark that Ash Wednesday comes early this year.  It does this year.

I’ve been thinking about Ash Wednesday.  It is the day that initiates the season of Lent, 40 days during which we are invited to reflect on the character and pursuits of our lives in the light of our faith and the teachings of Jesus.  On Ash Wednesday, this season of self-examination begins with the ancient exhortation: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  As is said at funerals, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

All this is by way of saying: take seriously your mortality!  It’s odd that we should need reminding of this.  Every day the media assaults us with news of death, timely and untimely, peaceful and violent, strangers and loved ones.  How can we not be aware of our mortality and the uncertain length of our lifespan?

Nevertheless, most of us live as though we don’t need to think about it, that we have plenty of time to deal with it later.  My sister, God bless her, lives with my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease.  She is taking care of her at home for as long as possible.  Last week, Kathy sent me a fat packet of information about our mom’s health history, financial, affairs, and end of life directives.  She is named in our mother’s will as the executor, but Kathy wants me to have all the information too in case she is unable to serve.  The packet she sent me, contained the same information about her own situation.  Bear in mind, Kathy is three years younger than I am, and we all know the statistics on how women generally outlive men.  (Just poke your head in any nursing home.)  Yet I have not done the same with my affairs.  Have you?

Or setting aside the contents of your bank account, think about the contents of your home.  If it resembles mine, it is probably stuffed to the gills: every room and closet, and if you have them, the attic, basement, and garage.  I feel sure we have all seen others confront such homes in the aftermath of a loved one’s death.  It is daunting to say the least.  I have heard many say, indeed I have said, we can’t do that to our children.  Yet nothing has been done to sift and reduce the clutter.

Health histories, bank accounts, all the stuff that fills our homes, these are important but mundane matters.  How much more important it is to take stock of that which fills our minds and hearts.  How much more important it is to take stock of the spiritual legacy we will leave behind when we return to dust and ashes.


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